September’s featured article
Clash Over State’s Kawainui Marsh Plan Divides Kailua
from Civil Beat
Some Native Hawaiians see the plan as an opportunity to preserve their culture in the gentrified coastal town but many residents fear more tourists and environmental damage.
For Kihei de Silva, the Kawainui-Hamakua Complex Master Plan is a chance to reclaim part of Kailua.
The state plan to build pathways and facilities around the marsh in windward Oahu has attracted fierce resistance from many Kailua residents who fear it would open the door to commercializing Hawaii’s largest wetland.
But de Silva, co-director of a traditional hula organization and an expert in Hawaiian culture and history, is one of many Native Hawaiians who sees the plan not as a threat, but as an opportunity to establish an indigenous cultural presence in a town that has long since been gentrified.
“We find ourselves being pushed out to the fringes of Kailua,” he said. “This represents a new stage in regaining our voice.”
PF Bentley/Civil Beat
A thousand years ago, Kawainui Marsh was a thriving fishpond, celebrated in Hawaiian culture as the home of Hauwahine, a goddess and spiritual guardian who protected the people of Kailua.
Today, the lush, 986-acre marsh is full of invasive plants and is polluted by runoff from trash dumped along the side of nearby Kapaa Quarry Road. Still, the wetland is a valuable part of the ecosystem, helping to control flooding and serving as home to four species of endangered birds.
The state has spent about three years updating its 1994 plan for the marsh. The latest version released in May proposes removing California grass and other invasive vegetation to help Kahanaiki Stream flow openly, reforesting the upland area with native plants like kaluha and makaloa, and mitigating stormwater runoff by repairing drainage channels.
The plan also includes more controversial aspects such as establishing research, educational and cultural facilities along the periphery of the marsh, and increasing public access by adding sidewalks, parking lots and restrooms.
State officials are currently analyzing public comments and still need to put together an environmental impact statement. Even if the plan is approved, it’s uncertain whether any of it will actually materialize, given the state’s limited funding.
Despite its fluidity, many Kailua residents are worried about how the plan could shape the future of the wetland. The Kailua Neighborhood Board and environmental organizations have argued that any buildings or pathways will despoil the marsh and open the door to flocks of tourists. More than 2,000 people signed a petition urging the state to discard the plan.
“The only way to preserve the marsh for its historic and cultural worth is to NOT build anything there, but rather to protect and maintain the existing marsh properly,” the petition reads.
De Silva and several Native Hawaiian community members believe that in order for the wetland to thrive, there must be an active, permanent indigenous presence. Native Hawaiians have a spiritual relationship with land that requires active caretaking, de Silva explained. He envisions restoring the marsh to a fishpond where food is grown once again.
“We have Hawaiians who are willing to stand up and say, ‘We are capable of being again good stewards of the land,’” de Silva said…